Eugène Ionesco Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Eugène Ionesco was known primarily for his plays. Over the years, however, he published memoirs and fiction worthy of critical attention; most notable are the memoirs Journal en miettes (1967; Fragments of a Journal, 1968) and Présent passé passé présent (1968; Present Past Past Present, 1972) and the novel Le Solitaire (1973; The Hermit, 1974). Successful as a playwright, Ionesco also surfaced occasionally as a theorist of the drama, notably in Notes et contre-notes (1962; Notes and Counter-Notes, 1964). Several of his better-known plays, including The Killer and Rhinoceros, were in fact developed from texts originally conceived, written, and published as short fiction; in addition, Ionesco published several highly innovative children’s books that prove edifying to the adult reader as well.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Eugène Ionesco is rivaled only by Samuel Beckett as the world’s best-known and most influential exponent of experimental drama, and he is credited with the development of new conventions according to which serious drama would henceforth have to be written and judged. A number of his early plays, such as The Bald Soprano, The Lesson, and The Chairs, are already established in the “permanent” dramatic repertory, along with Beckett’s En attendant Godot (pb. 1952, pr. 1953; Waiting for Godot, 1954) and Fin de partie (1957; Endgame, 1958). Although his work differs sharply from Beckett’s, both in concept and in execution, Ionesco is recorded as having welcomed Beckett’s 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature as applicable partially to himself, in recognition of a kindred spirit. It is clear that, following the emergence of these playwrights, serious drama will never again be the same.

In 1971, two years after Beckett received the Nobel Prize, Ionesco found his own achievement honored by election to the highly conservative Académie Française, a turn of events that only a short time earlier might have seemed equally unthinkable to the playwright and to the institution. Perhaps it appeared for a time that the ultimate artistic anarchist had joined, or become, the establishment; in fact, it was the theater that had changed.

Discovered, according to his own account, by accident,...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What was Eugène Ionesco’s attitude toward politics?

How did Ionesco’s bicultural background influence his work?

Comment on the use of farce in Ionesco’s work.

The Bald Soprano starts as an antiplay. However, its rhythm increases into a dramatic conflict. Study this progression.

Comment on the respective roles of the Emperor and the orator in The Chairs.

What would you consider the “rhinoceritis” of our contemporary world? Compare it to Rhinoceros.

Contrast the roles of Queen Marie and Queen Marguerite in Exit the King.

Compare Exit the King to another writer’s work that is also centered on death.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Coe, Richard N. Ionesco: A Study of His Plays. London: Methuen, 1971. One of several volumes written on Ionesco by the same critic beginning in 1961; the present volume includes a translation of the hitherto unpublished short play The Niece-Wife.

Esslin, Martin. The Theater of the Absurd. Reprint. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968. Esslin’s groundbreaking study remains authoritative on Ionesco’s theater and on its situation within the context of twentieth century avant-garde drama.

Gaensbauer, Deborah B. Eugène Ionseco Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1996. Replaces an earlier volume (1972) by Allan Lewis in Twayne’s World Authors series; generally sound critical and historical presentation of Ionesco’s dramatic canon and its legacy.

Grossvogel, David I. The Blasphemers: The Theater of Brecht, Ionesco, Beckett, and Genet. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964. Ionesco is placed in context with other contemporary experimental playwrights.

Jacobsen, Josephine, and William R. Mueller. Ionesco and Genet: Playwrights of Silence. New York: Hill and Wang, 1968. Ionesco is placed in context with other contemporary experimental playwrights.

Kluback, William, and Michael Finkenthal. The Clown in the Agora: Conversations About Eugène Ionesco. New York: P. Lang, 1998. Analyzes Ionesco’s philosophy as it is revealed in his work.

Lamont, Rosette C., ed. Ionesco’s Imperatives: The Politics of Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993. Covers Ionesco’s political stance as reflected in his work, as well as his theories of drama and performance.

Lane, Nancy. Understanding Eugène Ionesco. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. Published just before Ionesco’s death, Lane’s study is among the first to take note of Ionesco’s corrected birth date and other biographical details; generally sound readings of the major plays.

Nottingham French Studies 35, no. 1 (1996). Edited by Steven Smith. A special Ionesco issue of the journal published by the University of Nottingham, collecting a dozen articles dealing with all aspects of the author’s thought and theater. Contributors include David Bradby, Ingrid Coleman Chafee, Emmanuel Jacquart, and Rosette Lamont.

Rigg, Patrica. “Ionesco’s Berenger: Existential Philosopher or Philosophical Ironist?” Modern Drama 35 (December, 1992). Examines contrasting impulses in the Bérenger plays.

Sheringham, Michael. “Honors for a Mad Baby.” Times Literary Supplement, September 25, 1992. Excellent survey of his drama.